Navy acknowledges using non-binary drag queen as 'ambassador' to boost recruitment
The Navy did not compensate its digital ambassadors and it is evaluating future plans for the program, the spokesperson also said.
The Navy said has acknowledged having recruited a sailor who also was a non-binary drag queen to participate in a "Navy Digital Ambassador" pilot program designed to boost low recruitment numbers.
Yeoman 2nd Class Joshua Kelley, whose stage name is Harpy Daniels, was one of five active-duty personnel who participated in the digital ambassador program that ran from October 2022 to March 2023, a Navy spokesperson told The Daily Caller News Foundation reported in a story published Monday.
The program was "designed to explore the digital environment to reach a wide range of potential candidates," the spokesperson also said.
The Navy did not compensate its digital ambassadors and it is evaluating future plans for the program.
Conservative commentator and veteran Graham Allen criticized Kelley's activities on Tuesday when he tweeted, "This is not the same military I served under… Our enemies LAUGH at us," along with a video of Kelley in drag.
Kelley responded to Allen on Instagram, saying: "You only want to support the military when it benefits you and doesn't involve queer people. ... You dont care if i get death threates, [sic] people wanting to harm me or spread disinformation."
After becoming a drag performer in 2013, Kelley joined the Navy in 2016 and was able to perform for fellow service members while deployed on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in 2017 and 2018.
The digital ambassador campaign was launched as the Navy is struggling to bring on new recruits.
The Navy reached its goal for enlisted active members last fiscal year, which runs from October 2021 through September 2022, but the armed forces branch said it "came at a heavy price."
The Navy had to reach into its Delayed Entry Program pool, which are sailors who are contracted to join but remain on hold before being sent to boot camp. By the end of the fiscal year, the Navy had the lowest Delayed Entry Program pool numbers in 40 years.
Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti told the House Armed Services Committee last month that the Navy expects to miss its active duty recruiting goal of 37,700 by 8,000 this fiscal year, while the Navy Reserve is expected to be 3,000 sailors short of its 10,330 recruiting goal, according to her written testimony.
In addition to the digital ambassador program, the Navy is using various tools to boost enlistment, including increasing its maximum enlistment bonus to $50,000 and allowing up to 20% of new recruits to be in the below-average category.